The fire in the Jerusalem hills
The fire in the Jerusalem hillsAvner Medad/ TPS

Eliyahu Bash, the manager of the Metzuda winery in Givat Ye’arim that went up in flames on Sunday due to the massive blaze – set apparently by arsonists – in the Jerusalem hills, told Galei Tzahal on Monday morning that “the winery is gone. It’s dust and ashes. Nothing is left. Around 150 barrels were burned. Last Thursday, we received a consignment of 30,000 new bottles that we were going to fill yesterday. It happened in the most tragic manner possible,” he said.

The fire – which is still burning as of this writing on Monday morning – is being called one of the largest blazes ever recorded in the wider Jerusalem area. It appears to have been set near the town of Beit Meir, an area targeted by arsonists in the past. Due to the strong westerly winds prevailing on Sunday, it spread rapidly to nearby communities which were swiftly evacuated – some 10,000 people were directly affected.

The Metzuda winery is a haredi-owned vineyard that was founded around a decade ago in the small town of Givat Ye’arim, around twenty minutes’ drive from Jerusalem, producing around 40,000 bottles of wine per year. On Sunday evening, Bash described the events of that terrible day to Kikar Hashabbat.

“It was going to be a day of harvesting the grapes,” Bash related. “We started work indoors that morning, and suddenly, the world seemed to be going dark outside. The skies looked strange, but we didn’t realize the reason why, and we went back to work.”

“After around a quarter of an hour, the electricity went down, and we started to get worried. We went outside and then we saw the flames – they were already approaching – and there was an acrid smell of smoke. Then we realized what was going on. All of us – all the winery workers – ran for our cars and fled for our lives.

“A quarter hour later or so, I tried to see what was going on at the winery from a distant vantage point, and I saw it going up in flames and I could actually hear the sounds of explosions as the bottles of wine shattered.”

Bash then related the extent of his losses: “The winery wasn’t insured, and we’re talking about damages amounting to around seven or eight million shekels,” he said. “When I realized the extent of what was happening, I strengthened my faith in the Al-mighty and reminded my friend that ‘We are obligated to bless G-d for the bad just as we bless for the good.’ I believe that everything is from G-d,” he stressed.

“Really, I don’t know yet how we will recover,” he added. “But my faith has become stronger as a result of this. I also heard from local residents that because of the winery, the fire was stopped in that area, which saved other houses in the town from going up in flames, and that thought gives me some solace.”

Bash noted that the blaze occurred in the Jewish month of Elul, during which Jews examine themselves for their misdeeds and return wholeheartedly to G-d, to follow His commandments with love and awe: “As we stood and watched the winery going up in flames, I was reminded of the prayers we recite on the High Holidays: Who by fire… who will be at ease; and who will be troubled… And I realized that the moment that G-d decided that the winery was going to be burned, that was it – there was nothing anyone could do about it – not the planes, not the fire fighters – because this was G-d’s will. And that thought comforted me.”